Who to Believe?
- by Christina Richardson
I recently went shopping with friends to a number of our favorite thrift shops and found a long linen coat, a sweater, two shirts and three dresses. All of the items fit and I bought them.
For non-thrift store afficianados, the first piece of advice I have for you is to avoid shopping by size. You may miss some great buys that way.
The coat I bought was a size 6, the sweater was a medium; one shirt was an XS, and the other a large. The first dress I bought was a 6, the second was a 2, and the third was a 0. Really? A zero? That is absurd.
This is Deena Shoemaker. She is a teen counselor and a frustrated buyer of women’s clothing. These are the photos she posted on her Facebook page to illustrate a point. Clothing sizes make no sense. Her travails were written up the in Business Insider.
Mind, Body, Spirit
How did we get in this predicament?
Before ready-to-wear, there was made-to-measure. Measurements were made, patterns cut and sewn, and clothing fitted. Who knew or cared what “size” they were? In 1939, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began a yearlong study titled “Women’s Measurements for Garment and Pattern Construction.”
Working with the Bureau of Home Economics under a federal grant, they studied the weight and 58 body measurements of 14,698 women across seven states in the U.S. Once the final data was collated, statisticians analyzed the results and determined that five measurements were sufficient to determine the size and shape of a woman: weight, height, bust girth, waist girth and hip girth.
Weight was quickly dismissed as a measurement, analysts reasoning that “retail stores and homes frequently do not have scales and it is conceivable that women would object to telling their weights more than to giving, say, their bust measurements.”
Just a few of the biases included limiting the USDA study to white women, and the suggestion, after all the work was done, to recommend that mass manufacturers only produce every second clothing size. The study was completed in 1953 and published as “Commercial Standard (CS) 215-58.”
In 1970 the commercial standards were updated, partially in recognition that few women actually had an hourglass shape. In 1939 it was estimated that many women fit this mold, maybe due to restrictive undergarments, and now the percentage is about 8 percent. The new standards were voluntary for manufacturers.
With no real restrictions, retailers were limited only by their imaginations, and garments started to be labeled with smaller sizes. By 1983 the voluntary standards were gone, and all that is left is size numbers.